Coconut trees are super easy to grow and can be a good source of income for anyone!
Coconuts are not really nuts but are botanically known as drupes. The trees are generally classified as tall or dwarf. These tropical fruits can be as small as a few centimeters while the biggest coconut is called the Lodoicea or the ‘sea coconut’ – of which a single fruit can weigh around 30 kg. The tree grows up to 34 m tall and produces giant coconuts that take up to 6 years to mature and another 2 years to sprout. Because of its unique shape, it is also called ‘double coconut’.
Fortunately, nature gives us many more varieties of coconut that sprout faster and produce fruits all year round.
While selecting which variety to grow, you may feel a little lost, like me. Living in urban areas makes it challenging to decide what to grow and what not to. I have a list of my favourite coconut trees that I would, ideally, want to plant. But one must make a selection.
The best part about dwarf varieties is that the harvest becomes super easy
There are some tall varieties and some dwarf ones. Tall ones elevate the landscape and spread their fan-shaped leaves in the air where other trees will not reach. The long cylindrical stems don’t block your view – which makes them ideal for blending in with any setting, or even a border around a property.
On the other hand, dwarf varieties may spread their leaves or crown at only 12 feet from the ground. This means a lot more space around the tree cannot be used for other purpose. The best part, however, is that the harvest becomes super easy. One can very conveniently pick fruits when they are ready.
Once you have made your selection according to height of the palm tree, you can consider which colour of the fruit you would like to grow. In our part of the world, green coconuts are commonly grown. In Sri Lanka one finds the yellow king coconut wildly growing across the island along with other varieties. Besides the green and yellow ones, nature also offers red coconuts.
Note the variety. Now you understand the challenge that I face?
Personally, I appreciate the beautifully tall green coconut tree outside my house and in the school where we have a learning garden, but I am keen to find a dwarf yellow or red king coconut.
Growing coconut from seed
The coconut is the world’s largest seed and it is said to have spread across the world through the sea. It landed at new shores and began to sprout and spread. Growing a coconut tree from the seed is very simple. There are different methods of doing this and every single one of them works quite well. It depends on how many trees you want to grow.
Sowing seeds at home
Select a fresh coconut with lots of water in it. Dehusk the shell: which simply means removing the outer layer of husk and revealing the inner hard shell. Soak this shell in water for 3-4 days. You might need something heavy like an empty pot or a rock to keep the nut submerged.
After 4 days, place this shell in a bowl or a tray with 2-3 inches of water. Or alternately, plant this shell half covered in a potting mix that retains moisture. Make sure that the three grooves on the shell are on top.
In about a month you will see it sprout and from there onwards it will keep growing. You can then transplant it to a bigger pot and bring it out into the sun.
Starting a nursery of Coconut trees
For starting many coconut trees at a farm or at a nursery, one can’t quite follow the previous method.
Start by digging a trench that is 1 foot wide, 1 foot deep and as long as you like. Place whole coconuts horizontally, 2 feet apart. Cover this halfway and water well. These will soon sprout and grow here for the next couple of years or until you are ready to transplant.
Once you are ready to place these trees in to their final home, dig a hole that is 3 by 3 by 3 feet in all directions. Now ideally, you should have lots of coconut husk or an outer cover of coconuts, soil and manure with you to fill up these holes.
Start by spreading a first layer of coconut husk followed by soil, then the next layer of coconut husk and more soil. Finally, add your last layer of soil mixed with manure.
Dig a hole in the middle to fit the root ball of your seedling or young plant. Cover it with soil to even the surface. Now once again place two closely packed rows of coconut husk around the newly planted tree. This will keep the soil moist and protect the tree from weeds.
In case you cannot source coconut husk, simply use a soil and manure mix and use any other organic material for mulching.
Some varieties will begin to fruit as early as two years; others might take 6 to 10 years to produce the first fruits. Once they begin to fruit, they will keep producing for the next 40-50 years.
Some amazing varieties to look out for
King Coconut: It fruits in 6 years but produces medium-sized orange fruits with sweet water inside. It produces 25-50 nuts per bunch
Green Dwarf: It should fruit in 3-4 years. The nuts are small but you get 150 per tree each year.
Sri Lankan tall: it produces 20-25 nuts per bunch and up to 80 nuts per tree each year. This variety starts producing medium-sized fruits in 6 to 7 years.
I believe we must not forget about this super-easy-to-grow fruiting palm tree, that needs very little attention. Next year when tree plantation begins across Karachi, we ought to plant a lot of coconut trees. I would love to learn about what coconut varieties you are growing and any tips that you might want to share.
Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to [email protected]